Stand Out at Your Main Event: Trade Show Marketing Strategies

Posted on January 28, 2014

Stand Out at Your Main Event: Trade Show Marketing Strategies

By Paul Fulton, Jr., Vice President

SAP brought a city bus. JDA brought dancers. Microsoft brought Delta Air Lines pilots and flight attendants in full brand attire.

Trade show marketing is a performance art that begins well before the doors open and continues after they have closed. And having taken our client, Irisys, to the NRF show for several years, we can tell you first-hand it’s not called “The BIG Show” for nothing.

From walking the National Retail Federation’s International Convention and Expo a couple of weeks ago, it was no surprise to see exhibitors brought their A-game marketing strategies – they had no choice but to bring them if they had any hope of standing out in a competitive environment.

The days of scaled-down trade show marketing are behind us. Two floors of the Javits Convention Center teem with huge, interactive exhibits; performance artists and models; flowing cocktails; live product demos – virtually anything that could appeal to attendees’ senses and produce big business deals.

Not every company, however, has the mega-marketing budgets that afford a bus-turned-custom-exhibit or the high-profile client whose presence attracts other lucrative leads. But that doesn’t mean important trade shows should be skipped altogether.

Instead, a strategically planned trade show strategy – both on the floor and away from the show – can drive more quality sales leads. The key is to start early and to leave no opportunity untouched.

Here are a few elements to consider when developing a trade show marketing strategy:

Uncover and Activate Existing Audiences:  Many companies that have implemented marketing and public relations strategies inconsistently – or scattered between departments – have often collected some audience pools without realizing their value. They may be sitting in an email marketing database or CRM that hasn’t been touched in a while, hanging around a Twitter handle that’s gone silent, or following your company on LinkedIn – just waiting for an update to appear.

These audiences can be among your most valuable assets – particularly those that have crowded around social media properties, because that action alone indicates they’re ready to receive your information. Find these audiences, and deliver meaningful messages that excite them about your presence at a show. You never know who might visit your exhibit, just because they happened to catch your Tweet. 

Be Smart About Sponsorships:  Prices for top-tier sponsorships can go well into tens of thousands of dollars – which is out of reach for many companies. All sponsorships, however, are not created equally.

Take the Press Room, for example. They often are among the least expensive but have the most potential. When implemented strategically, Press Room sponsorships often present a valuable opportunity to get your message in front of reporters before they’re inundated with competing news opportunities that will arise at a show.

If your story is told in a compelling, media-friendly voice with a specific news angle, you increase the opportunity to extend your business message outside of the exhibit hall – and into your target industry.

Resulting media coverage can then be maximized through your own social media, emarketing and other content strategies to ensure highly influential stories are placed directly in front of your purchasing audiences.

Craft an Appealing Pre-Event Perception:  By the time the doors open, many trade show attendees already know who they will meet with and what companies they will explore. That’s why pre-event promotion is crucial.

Prospects should start seeing and hearing your promotional messages six to eight weeks before a show – and as early as three months for major trade shows where big, dominating brands have a tendency to drown out up-and-coming innovators.

When we talk about “Pre-Event Messages,” we mean those that sell while simultaneously crafting perceptions. The best pre-event messages typically tell an interesting, attention-grabbing story about your company, product or service and elevate you above your competitors.

Calls-to-action – “Schedule an Appointment with Us” … “See a Live Demonstration” … “Experience it for Yourself” – are also usually integrated throughout your story. Many people will take action when you simply give them the means to do so.

Tell a Great Story through Your Exhibit:  Some levels of stage theatrics are required at any trade show. Salespeople put on their best performances. Products are merchandised interestingly. And high-tech special effects add creative flair. A lot of this activity will take place at your exhibit – the stage from which you’ll tell your story. That’s why you should look critically at your exhibit to ensure it conveys the story you want to tell. 
The most effective exhibits typically combine structural components, graphics, copy and other details to set an audience perception. When these elements are implemented in a manner that appeals to your audience and breaks you free from competing clutter, the casual passersby will often stop to learn more about your product or service – and can become high-quality leads who can be nurtured into customers.

However, ensuring the right story is being represented tangibly is only part of the trade show performance. Exhibits that do well not only have a clear and direct message built into the elements, but they also employ a well-versed team able to articulate the message to anyone who asks – as well as to the curious onlookers who don’t.

You Aren’t Done Yet - Follow Up:  After a huge show, it can be tempting to pack up the exhibit, ship your materials and move on to the next priority. But the work isn’t finished yet! Leads captured at the show should be qualified, prioritized segmented into tiers and entered into the appropriate database.

A combination of quickly-implemented nurturing strategies – from personal notes to email marketing to mailed collateral – will remind leads why they met with you and elevate the value you bring to their business.

Key elements of the follow-up program that are put in place before the show ensures continuity in the relationship and motivates hot prospects to take action quickly, before their interest wanes – or before a competing entity fills the void and grabs their attention.

In Closing ... 

With a customer-centered strategy; a timeline that gives you a competitive edge; and metrics established that define your unique success, you can walk away from a show with more revenue opportunities and new levels of momentum that push your reputation – and your business – forward.


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